Category Archives: D. A. Carson

March 26 For the love of God (Vol. 2)

Exodus 37; John 16; Proverbs 13; Ephesians 6

 

the parallelism in the Bible’s Wisdom Literature is diverse. Understanding this helps us to reflect more accurately on Scripture. It is easy to illustrate the point with two or three kinds of parallelism drawn from Proverbs 13.

Some instances of parallelism are simple opposites. “He who walks with the wise grows wise, / but a companion of fools suffers harm” (13:20). The second line is almost the opposite of the first, and the two lines together remind readers that they will be shaped by the company they keep and by the advice they listen to. “He who spares the rod hates his son, / but he who loves him is careful to discipline him” (13:24). The first line may employ a touch of hyperbole, but the contrast between the two lines makes the lesson of the whole verse clear enough.

In some cases the second line is not the opposite of the first line, but an extension of it. “The teaching of the wise is a fountain of life, / turning a man from the snares of death” (13:14). Of course, there is a contrast between “life” and “death,” nevertheless the thought of the second line is not the opposite to what is expressed in the first line, but a further exposition of it. This is sometimes called “step parallelism.”

Perhaps the proverbs that demand the most focused reflection are those in which the two lines are obviously meant to be opposites, and yet the categories do not, on first reading, quite line up. Such proverbs are gently provocative. Each of the two lines is subtly shaped by the other.

Here are two examples. “Pride only breeds quarrels, / but wisdom is found in those who take advice” (13:10). Merely formal parallelism might have preferred, “Pride only breeds quarrels, / but humility generates peace.” But the text of Scripture invites more profound analysis. “Wisdom” is contrasted with “pride”—which gently discloses what wisdom is, while implicitly saying that pride is folly. The quarrels of the first line are generated by the arrogant refusal to listen to another point of view, to take advice.

Or again, “Every prudent man acts out of knowledge, but a fool exposes his folly” (13:16). A simple contrast would have preferred: “Every prudent man acts out of knowledge, / but a fool acts out of ignorance [or folly].” But the second line says that the fool exposes his folly. The two lines become mutually clarifying. The prudent man who acts out of knowledge (line 1) thereby displays his wisdom; the fool acts out of folly, and thereby exposes it for all to see. In this light, reflect on Psalm 14:1![1]


[1] Carson, D. A. (1998). For the love of God: a daily companion for discovering the riches of God’s Word. (Vol. 2, p. 25). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books.

March 26 For the love of God (Vol. 1)

Exodus 37; John 16; Proverbs 13; Ephesians 6

 

the coming of the holy spirit, the “Counselor” or Paraclete, is dependent on Jesus’ “going away,” i.e., his death by crucifixion, subsequent resurrection, and exaltation (John 16:7; cf. 7:37–39). This raises important questions about the relationship between the Spirit’s role under the old covenant, before the cross, and his role this side of it. That is worthy of careful probing. Here, however, John’s emphasis on the Spirit’s work must be made clear.

At the end of John 15, the Counselor, we are told, will bear witness to Jesus, and to this task to which the disciples of Jesus will lend their voices (15:26–27). The prime witness falls to the Spirit. In John 16:8–11, the Counselor convicts the world of sin, righteousness, and judgment. He does so because Jesus is returning to the Father and no longer exercises the role of convicting people himself.

If the Holy Spirit bears witness to Jesus in 15:26–27 and brings conviction to people by continuing the work of Jesus in 16:8–11, in 16:12–15 he brings glory to Jesus by unpacking Christ to those who attended that Last Supper (the “you” in v. 12 cannot easily be taken in any other way, and controls the other instances of “you” in the rest of the paragraph; cf. also 14:26). As Jesus is not independent of his Father, but speaks only what the Father gives him to say (5:16–30), so the Spirit is not independent of the Father and the Son: “He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears” (16:13). His focus is Jesus: “He will bring glory to me by taking from what is mine and making it known to you” (16:14). And of course, even here what belongs to Jesus comes from the Father: “All that belongs to the Father is mine. That is why I said the Spirit will take from what is mine and make it known to you” (16:15).

The reason why Jesus himself has not unpacked everything about himself and his mission to the disciples is that they are not yet ready to bear it (16:12). Even this late in their discipleship, they cannot quite integrate in their own minds the notion of a King-Messiah and the notion of a Suffering Messiah. Until that point is firmly nailed down, the way they read their Scriptures—what we call the Old Testament—will be so skewed by political and royal aspirations that they are not going to get it right.

How much of the Spirit’s work focuses on Jesus Christ—bearing witness to him, continuing certain aspects of his ministry, unpacking his significance![1]


[1] Carson, D. A. (1998). For the love of God: a daily companion for discovering the riches of God’s Word. (Vol. 1, p. 25). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books.

March 25 For the love of God (Vol. 2)

Exodus 36; John 15; Proverbs 12; Ephesians 5

 

in the contemporary climate, a straightforward reading of Ephesians 5:21–33 is increasingly unpopular. Without descending to details, I shall venture my understanding of the flow of the passage.

(1) Oddly, the NIV prints 5:21 (“Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.”) as a separate paragraph. In the original, this is the last of a string of participial expressions that fill out what it means to be filled with the Spirit (5:18): functionally, being filled with the Spirit means everything in 5:19–21. Moreover, the words “submit to one another” should not be taken in a mutually reciprocal way, as if exhorting all Christians to submit to one another reciprocally. For: (a) the verb “to submit” in Greek always refers to submission in some sort of ordered array, never to mutual deference; (b) the idea is then picked up in the following “household table” of duties: wives submit to husbands, children to parents, and slaves to masters (5:22–6:4); (c) the same vision of submission is repeated in the New Testament (Col. 3:18–19; Titus 2:4–5; 1 Pet. 3:1–6); (d) the Greek pronoun rendered “one another” is often not reciprocal (e.g., Rev. 6:4).

(2) Nevertheless, certain things must be said about the wife’s submission to her husband (5:22–24). (a) It is not to be confused with certain pathetic stereotypes—groveling, self-pity, unequal pay for equal work (as if God were the God of injustice), and the like. (b) This submission is modeled on the church’s responsibility to submit to Christ. This brings up large issues of typology that cannot be explored here. But practically, it ought to reduce nagging, belittling one’s husband, browbeating manipulation, and the like. (c) This submission does not deny equal worth (both are made in the image of God) or perfect functional equality in many domains (e.g., sexual rights, in 1 Cor. 7).

(3) Husbands are to love their wives as Christ loved the church (5:25–33)—which at the very least means loving their wives self-sacrificially and for their good. More explicitly, the husband’s love for his wife must mirror Christ’s love for his church (a) in its self-sacrifice (5:25); (b) in its goal (5:26–28a), seeking her good and her holiness; (c) in its self-interest (5:28b–30)—for there is a kind of identification that the husband makes with his wife, as Christ identifies himself with his church; (d) in its typological fulfillment (5:31–33)—which again introduces huge typological structures that run right through the Bible.

The responsibilities of both husband and wife are dramatically opposed to self-interest.[1]


[1] Carson, D. A. (1998). For the love of God: a daily companion for discovering the riches of God’s Word. (Vol. 2, p. 25). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books.

March 25 For the love of God (Vol. 1)

Exodus 36; John 15; Proverbs 12; Ephesians 5

 

god’s love is spoken of in a variety of ways in the Bible.

In some passages God’s love is directed toward his elect. He loves them and not others (e.g., Deut. 4:37; 7:7–8; Mal. 1:2). But if we think of the love of God as invariably restricted to his elect, we will soon distort other themes: his gracious provision of “common grace” (Is he not the God who sends his rain upon the just and upon the unjust? [Matt. 5:45]), his mighty forbearance (e.g., Rom. 2:4), his pleading with rebels to turn and repent lest they die, for he takes no pleasure in the death of the wicked (e.g., Ezek. 33:11). On the other hand, if this were all that the Bible says about the love of God, God would soon be reduced to an impotent, frustrated lover who has done all he can, poor chap. That will never account for the loving initiative of effective power bound up with the first passages cited, and more like them.

There are yet other ways the Bible speaks of the love of God. One of them dominates in John 15:9–11. Here the Father’s love for us is conditional upon obedience. Jesus enjoins his disciples to obey him in exactly the same way that he obeys his Father, so that they may remain in his love: “If you obey my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have obeyed my Father’s commands, and remain in his love” (15:10).

The context shows that this is not telling us how people become Jesus’ followers. Rather, assuming that his hearers are his followers, Jesus insists that there is a relational love at stake that must be nurtured and preserved. In exactly the same way, the love of the Father for the Son says nothing about how that relation originated (!), it merely reflects the nature of that relationship. The Father’s love for the Son is elsewhere said to be demonstrated in his “showing” the Son everything, so that the Son does all the Father does and receives the same honor as the Father (John 5:19–23); the Son’s love for the Father is demonstrated in obedience (14:31). As my children remain in my love by obeying me and not defying me, so Jesus’ followers remain in his love. Of course, there is a sense in which I shall always love my children, regardless of what they do. But there is a relational element in that love that is contingent upon their obedience.

Thus Jesus mediates the Father’s love to us (15:9), and the result of our obedience to him is great joy (15:11). “Keep yourselves in God’s love” (Jude 21).[1]


[1] Carson, D. A. (1998). For the love of God: a daily companion for discovering the riches of God’s Word. (Vol. 1, p. 25). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books.

March 24 For the love of God (Vol. 2)

Exodus 35; John 14; Proverbs 11; Ephesians 4

 

i wish to draw attention to three proverbs, or kinds of proverbs, in Proverbs 11:

(1) Like Proverbs 10, this chapter includes several proverbs that focus on the tongue, on human speech. The entire section 11:9–14 deals with one aspect or another of how the mouth may prove to be either a blessing or a curse. Among the more interesting elements is the twin mention of the fact that sometimes the most godly thing a mouth may do is keep silent: “a man of understanding holds his tongue.… a trustworthy man keeps a secret” (11:12, 13). Another striking feature of this section is its insistence that the mouth can either bless an entire city (and, in principle, a nation), or destroy it (11:10, 11, 14). The one tongue offers sage counsel, prophetic rebuke, strategic planning, utter integrity in matters of government and jurisprudence, a respectful humility in dealing with others, and transparent encouragement to walk in the fear of the Lord. The other tongue is pretentious, deceitful, happy to corrupt both legislative and judicial processes, self-serving, and manipulative.

(2) “Like a gold ring in a pig’s snout is a beautiful woman who shows no discretion” (11:22). Structurally, the Hebrew is simple parallelism without predication: “A ring of gold in the snout of a pig / A beautiful woman without discretion.” To make the Hebrew’s subtle comparison explicit (since English poetry is not as dependent on parallelism as Hebrew poetry is), the NIV has constructed a simile. But the point is the same, and the imagery wonderfully evocative. The large, half-wild pigs of the ancient world had rings in their noses to control them. Never were those rings made of gold! The obvious silliness of the image would for the Jew carry a touch of repulsiveness, since pigs were unclean animals. On the same scale, but in a different dimension, the excellence of beauty in a woman is demeaned, debased to the level of a repulsive joke, when the woman herself shows no discretion. There is a great deal in our culture, and not just in Hollywood, that could profit from this proverb.

(3) “One man gives freely, yet gains even more; another withholds unduly, but comes to poverty” (11:24). Paradox is another feature of many proverbs. This sort of utterance is far more powerful than a simple exhortation, “We ought to be generous,” or a simple slogan, “Generosity pays,” or the like. The way our providential God has ordered the universe, the generous hand, as a rule, has much to give. Very often the selfish miser ends up in bitter penury. Can you think of examples?[1]


[1] Carson, D. A. (1998). For the love of God: a daily companion for discovering the riches of God’s Word. (Vol. 2, p. 25). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books.

March 24 For the love of God (Vol. 1)

Exodus 35; John 14; Proverbs 11; Ephesians 4

 

the farewell discourse, beginning in John 14, includes some extraordinarily rich material on the Holy Spirit. Some highlights:

(1) In Greek, every noun is grammatically designated masculine, feminine, or neuter. The word for “spirit” is neuter. When a pronoun referring to “spirit” is used, it too should be neuter. In this chapter, however, the pronoun is sometimes masculine, breaking grammatical form, a way of gently affirming that the Holy Spirit is personal.

(2) Among his titles is “Counselor” (14:16), or, in some English versions, “Comforter” or “Helper.” When Comforter was coined, it drew from Latin words that meant “to strengthen” or “to strengthen along with.” Today a comforter is either a thick quilt or someone who helps the bereaved, and is therefore too restrictive to convey what is meant here. The Greek word is capable of a variety of nuances, so some do not translate it but merely transliterate it (i.e., put it into English spelling) as Paraclete. He is certainly someone who is called alongside to help and to strengthen. Sometimes the help is legal: he can for instance serve as prosecuting attorney (16:7–11), and he may be our legal “Counselor.” (The word should not conjure up pictures of camp counselors or psychological counselors.)

(3) He is, Jesus says, “another Counselor” (14:16, italics added). In older Greek, this word for “another” usually had overtones of “another of the same kind.” By the time of the New Testament, that meaning is fairly rare; it cannot be assumed, but must be demonstrated from the context. In this case, Jesus is clearly promising to send someone who will stand in his place. Intriguingly, apart from its use in the Farewell Discourse, the word rendered “Counselor” is found in the New Testament only in one other place, viz. 1 John 2:1 (NIV: “one who speaks to the Father in our defense”). So Jesus is the first Paraclete. At his impending departure, he promises to send the Holy Spirit, another Paraclete, to and for his followers.

(4) He is also called “the Spirit of truth” (14:17). This not only means he tells the truth as opposed to lies, but that he is the true Spirit, the one who mediates the very presence of the Father and the Son to the believers (14:23).

(5) The Spirit, Jesus promises, “will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you” (14:26). Since the “you” are being reminded of what Jesus said, in the first instance they must be the first disciples. The Spirit will enable them to recall Jesus’ teaching, and flesh out its significance in the wake of the cross and resurrection. How secure would the links have been without his work?[1]


[1] Carson, D. A. (1998). For the love of God: a daily companion for discovering the riches of God’s Word. (Vol. 1, p. 25). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books.

March 23 For the love of God (Vol. 2)

Exodus 34; John 13; Proverbs 10; Ephesians 3

 

proverbs 10 opens a new section of the book of Proverbs, titled “Proverbs of Solomon” in most of our English Bibles (compare the sectional headings before chapters 25, 30, and 31). People who study these chapters debate over the extent to which each of these sections is organized, as opposed to preserving loose collections of proverbs. Almost all agree, however, that very frequently certain themes dominate a section. For instance, it is worth reading through chapter 10 and highlighting every word related to human speech: mouth, lips, chattering fool, tongue, and so forth. Proverbs 10:19 is choice: “When words are many, sin is not absent, but he who holds his tongue is wise.”

Instead of pursuing this theme, today I want to reflect on what a proverb is. A proverb is not case law, i.e., a piece of legislation that covers a particular case. Nor is it unbridled promise. This affects how one interprets proverbs. Consider, for instance, 10:27: “The fear of the Lord adds length to life, but the years of the wicked are cut short.” If this is unqualified promise, it follows that righteous people will invariably live longer than unrighteous people. Find someone who dies relatively young, and you know you are dealing with a wicked person. Someone who lives to the age of one hundred must be a righteous person.

But we know perfectly well that the world is not like that. Godly young people sometimes die of cancer. Having worked our way through Job, we are painfully aware that sometimes reprobates live to a ripe old age. And what shall we say of people who die unexpectedly in accidents, or in storms and other “acts of God,” or in persecution?

Does this mean, then, that Proverbs 10:27 is robbed of all meaning? No, of course not. But it is a proverb, not an unqualified promise. A proverb is a wise saying, an aphorism. Most of the proverbs in this book provide wise, generalizing conclusions about how the world works under God’s providential rule. The fear of the Lord really does add years to one’s life: on the whole, a life lived in this way will adopt fewer bad habits, will learn to trust and therefore reduce stress, will honor hard work offered up to the Lord, will cherish family and friends, and so forth—and in God’s universe all of these things have effects. None of this means that a godly person cannot die younger than an ungodly person. It does mean that, in a particular group of people, on the whole those who fear the Lord will live longer than those who do not. This is the blessing of God; the Lord has constructed the universe this way and continues his providential rule over it.[1]


[1] Carson, D. A. (1998). For the love of God: a daily companion for discovering the riches of God’s Word. (Vol. 2, p. 25). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books.

March 23 For the love of God (Vol. 1)

Exodus 34; John 13; Proverbs 10; Ephesians 3

 

when at the end of the previous chapter, Moses asks to see the Lord’s glory, he is promised (as we have seen) a display of his goodness (33:19). But no one, not even Moses, can gaze at God’s face and live (33:20). So the Lord arranges for Moses to glimpse, as it were, the trailing edge of the afterglow of the glory of God—and this remarkable experience is reported in Exodus 34.

As the Lord passes by the cleft in the rock where Moses is safely hidden, the Lord intones, “Yahweh, Yahweh, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness” (34:6). The Hebrew words rendered “love” and “faithfulness” are a common pair in the Old Testament. The former is regularly connected with God’s covenantal mercy, his covenantal grace; the latter is grounded in his reliability, his covenantal commitment to keep his word, to do what he promises, to be faithful, to be true.

When John introduces Jesus as the Word of God (John 1:1–18), he tells his readers that when the Word of God became flesh (1:14), he “tabernacled” among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory of the One who came from the Father, full of “grace” and “truth.” There are good reasons to think that John has chosen these two words to render the paired expression of the Old Testament. He was clearly thinking of these chapters: Exodus 32–34. Echoing Exodus 33, he reminds us that “no one has ever seen God” (1:18). But now that Jesus Christ has come, this Word-made-flesh has made the Father known, displaying “grace and truth” par excellence. The Law was given by Moses—that was wonderful enough, certainly a grace-gift from God. But “grace and truth” in all their unshielded splendor came with Jesus Christ (1:17).

Even the lesser revelation graciously displayed for Moses’ benefit brings wonderful results. It precipitates covenant renewal. The Lord responds to Moses’ prayer: “I am making a covenant with you. Before all your people I will do wonders never before done in any nation in all the world. The people you live among will see how awesome is the work that I, the Lord, will do for you” (34:10). From God’s side, this ensures their entry into the Promised Land, for the Lord himself will drive out the opposition (34:11); from the side of the covenant community, what is required is obedience, including careful separation from the surrounding pagans and paganism. “Do not worship any other god, for the Lord, whose name is Jealous, is a jealous God” (34:14).

How could it be otherwise? This God is gracious, but he is also true.[1]


[1] Carson, D. A. (1998). For the love of God: a daily companion for discovering the riches of God’s Word. (Vol. 1, p. 25). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books.

March 22 For the love of God (Vol. 2)

Exodus 33; John 12; Proverbs 9; Ephesians 2

 

in real life, most of us are a mix of wise and foolish, prudent and silly, thoughtful and impulsive. Nevertheless it helps us to see what the issues are by setting out the alternatives as a simple choice. That is what Proverbs 9 does for us. It pictures two women, Wisdom and Folly, calling out to people. In some ways, this drive toward a simple choice—wisdom or folly, good or evil, the Lord or rebellion—is typical of Wisdom Literature. It is a powerful, evocative way of getting across the fundamental issues in the choices we make.

Let us begin with Folly (9:13–18). The way Folly sits in the door of her house reminds the reader of a prostitute. She calls out to those who pass by, to those who otherwise “go straight on their way” (9:15). She is “undisciplined and without knowledge” (9:13). What she offers is never fresh: it is warmed over, stolen stuff, garnished with promises of esoteric enjoyment—not unlike the promise of illicit sex (9:17). Those who are snookered by her do not reflect on the fact that her seductions lead to death (9:18).

Wisdom, too, builds a house and calls people in (9:1–6). But her house is stable and well-built (9:1). Like Folly, Wisdom calls “from the highest point of the city,” where she can be heard (9:3, 14); but unlike Folly, Wisdom has prepared a delicious and nourishing meal (9:2, 5). The “simple,” i.e., those who do not yet have wisdom but are willing to acquire it, may come and feast, and learn to “walk in the way of understanding” (9:6).

Of course, to speak of informing or correcting the simple immediately draws attention to how the counsel of Wisdom will be received. There is a sense in which someone who accepts wisdom is already proving wise; the person who rejects wisdom is a mocker or wicked. Hence the powerful contrast of the next verses (9:7–9): “Do not rebuke a mocker or he will hate you; rebuke a wise man and he will love you” (9:8)—with the two alternatives fleshed out in the verses on either side of this one (9:7, 9).

The high point in the chapter comes with 9:10–12: “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and knowledge of the Holy One is understanding” (9:10). Normally, there are blessings even in this life for those with such priorities and commitments (9:11–12). Above all, this definition of “the beginning of wisdom” powerfully shows that the wisdom held up in Proverbs is neither esoteric insight nor secular intellectual prowess; rather, it is devotion to God and all that flows from such devotion in thought and life.[1]


[1] Carson, D. A. (1998). For the love of God: a daily companion for discovering the riches of God’s Word. (Vol. 2, p. 25). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books.

March 22 For the love of God (Vol. 1)

Exodus 33; John 12; Proverbs 9; Ephesians 2

 

one cannot understand Exodus 33 without grasping two things: (1) The tabernacle had not yet been built. The “tent of meeting” pitched outside the camp (33:7) where Moses went to seek the face of God must therefore have been a temporary arrangement. (2) The theme of judgment trails on from the wretched episode of the golden calf. God says he will not go with his people; he will merely send an angel to help them (33:1–3).

So Moses continues with his intercession (33:12–13). While dwelling on the fact that this nation is the Lord’s people, Moses now wants to know who will go with him. (Aaron is so terribly compromised.) Moses himself still wants to know and follow God’s ways. God replies, “My Presence will go with you, and I will give you rest” (33:14). But how does this square with the Lord’s threat to do no more than send an angel, to keep away from the people so that he does not destroy them in his anger? So Moses presses on: “If your Presence does not go with us, do not send us up from here [angel or no!]” (33:15). What else, finally, distinguishes this fledgling nation from all other nations but the presence of the living God (33:16)?

And the Lord promises, “I will do the very thing you have asked, because I am pleased with you and I know you by name” (33:17).

Although Moses continues to pray along these lines in the next chapter (34:9), the glorious fact is that God no longer speaks of abandoning his people. When the tabernacle is built, it is installed in the midst of the twelve tribes.

Three brief reflections: (1) These chapters exemplify the truth that God is a jealous God (Ex. 20:5; 34:14). For one human being to be jealous of another is sinful: we are finite, and we are called to be stewards of what we have received, not jealous of others. But for God not to be jealous of his own sovereign glory and right would be a formidable failure: he would be disowning his own unique significance as God, implicitly conceding that his image-bearers have the right to independence. (2) God is said to “relent” about forty times in the Old Testament. Such passages demonstrate his personal interactions with other people. When all forty are read together, several patterns emerge—including the integration of God’s “relenting” with his sovereign will. (3) Wonderfully, when Moses asks to see God’s glory, God promises to display his goodness (33:18–19). It is no accident that the supreme manifestation of the glory of God in John’s gospel is in the cross.[1]


[1] Carson, D. A. (1998). For the love of God: a daily companion for discovering the riches of God’s Word. (Vol. 1, p. 25). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books.

March 21 For the love of God (Vol. 2)

Exodus 32; John 11; Proverbs 8; Ephesians 1

 

in greek, ephesians 1:3–14 is one long sentence. Perhaps that is one of the reasons why even the best English translations are a little condensed and not simple to unpack. Here I shall focus on the first part, Ephesians 1:3–10, and reflect on how three themes come together: God’s predestining sovereignty, God’s unqualified grace, and God’s glorious purposes.

The passage is a doxology, a word of praise, “to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ”—and the following verses provide the reasons why we should praise this God and why his Son Jesus Christ is integral to his praiseworthy deeds. This God, Paul immediately says, is the One “who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ” (1:3). The “us” refers to Christians; the blessings we have received are “in Christ”; and the sphere of these spiritual blessings is “the heavenly realms.” In Ephesians, “the heavenly realms” or “the heavenlies” refers to the heavenly dimension of our ultimate existence, experienced in some measure right now. So already we are being introduced to the third theme, God’s glorious purpose.

If the description of God in 1:3 already exposes the reader to at least some of the reason why God is to be praised, the “for” at the beginning of verse 4 introduces the formal reason: even before the world was created, God chose us in Christ (God’s predestining sovereignty) “to be holy and blameless in his sight” (God’s glorious purpose). Indeed, “In love he predestined us” (God’s unqualified grace and his predestining sovereignty) “to be adopted as his sons through Jesus Christ” (God’s glorious purpose), “in accordance with his pleasure and will” (God’s predestining sovereignty)—all of this “to the praise of his glorious grace” (both God’s glorious purpose and his unqualified grace), “which he has freely given us in the One he loves” (God’s unqualified grace). “In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins” (God’s glorious purpose), “in accordance with the riches of God’s grace that he lavished on us with all wisdom and understanding” (God’s unqualified grace) (1:4–8).

Read through the rest of this passage and work out these themes (and there are others) for yourself.

The themes hang together in important ways. The more clearly one sees how sovereign is God’s choice, the more clearly does his unmerited grace stand out. But sovereign “predestination” is irrational without a “destination”: God’s purposes in his sovereign sway are thus inescapably tied to his sovereignty and his grace. The more we glimpse God’s wonderfully good purposes, the more we shall be grateful for his sovereign sway in bringing them to pass.[1]


[1] Carson, D. A. (1998). For the love of God: a daily companion for discovering the riches of God’s Word. (Vol. 2, p. 25). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books.

March 21 For the love of God (Vol. 1)

Exodus 32; John 11; Proverbs 8; Ephesians 1

 

exodus 32 is simultaneously one of the low points and one of the high points in Israel’s history.

Only months out of slavery in Egypt, the Israelites prove so fickle that the delay of Moses on the mountain (a mere forty days) provides them with all the excuse they need for a new round of complaining. Moses’ delay does not prompt them to pray, but elicits callous ingratitude and disoriented syncretism. Even their tone is sneering: “As for this fellow Moses who brought us up out of Egypt, we don’t know what has happened to him” (32:1).

Aaron is revealed as a spineless wimp, unable or unwilling to impose any discipline. He is utterly without theological backbone—not even enough to be a thoroughgoing pagan, as he continues to invoke the name of the Lord even while he himself manufactures a golden calf (32:4–5). He is still a wimp when, challenged by his brother, he insists, rather ridiculously, “Then they gave me the gold, and I threw it into the fire, and out came this calf!” (32:24). Despite the covenantal vows they had made (24:7), many in the nation wanted all the blessings they could get from Yahweh, but gave little thought to the nature of their own sworn obligations to their Maker and Redeemer. It was a low moment of national shame—not the last in their experience, not the last in the confessing church.

The high point? When God threatens to wipe out the nation, Moses intercedes. Not once does he suggest that the people do not deserve to be wiped out, or that they are not as bad as some might think. Rather, he appeals to the glory of God. Why should God act in such a way that the Egyptians might scoff and say that the Lord isn’t strong enough to pull off this rescue (32:12)? Besides, isn’t God obligated to keep his vows to the patriarchs, Abraham, Isaac, and Israel (32:13)? How could God go back on his solemn promises? His final appeal is simply for forgiveness (32:30–32), and if God cannot extend such mercy, then Moses does not want to begin a new race (as angry as he himself is, 32:19). He prefers to be blotted out with the rest of the people.

Here is an extraordinary mediator, a man whose entire sympathies are with God and his gracious salvation and revelation, a man who makes no excuses for the people he is called to lead, but who nevertheless so identifies with them that if judgment is to fall on them he begs to suffer with them. Here is a man who “stands in the gap” (cf. Ezek. 13:3–5; 22:29–30).[1]


[1] Carson, D. A. (1998). For the love of God: a daily companion for discovering the riches of God’s Word. (Vol. 1, p. 25). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books.

March 20 For the love of God (Vol. 2)

Exodus 31; John 10; Proverbs 7; Galatians 6

 

in an earlier meditation (vol. 1, September 30), I reflected on the flow of thought in Galatians 6. Here I want to focus on elements of Galatians 6:1–5.

On the face of it, there is a formal contradiction between 6:2, “Carry each other’s burdens,” and 6:5, “for each one should carry his own load.” One could guess at a pastoral resolution. Christians should be concerned to help others; at the same time, they should not invert this concern and so depend on the help of others that they become nothing but freeloaders. In other words, 6:2 makes abundant sense when it is understood to forbid isolationism and to mandate compassion; 6:5 makes abundant sense when it is understood to forbid sponging and to mandate personal responsibility.

But the context of the paragraph in which both sayings are embedded enables us to go a little farther. The passage begins by exhorting Christians to restore, gently, a brother or sister who is caught in a sin (6:1). More specifically, Paul says that “you who are spiritual” ought to undertake this task. In light of the preceding verses (see yesterday’s meditation), those who are “spiritual” are Christians who manifestly “keep in step with the Spirit” (5:25) and thus produce the fruit of the Spirit. This responsibility is laid on all Christians, but obviously some Christians are a little farther along in their fruit-bearing than others. So Christians who produce the fruit of the Spirit, as mandated of all Christians, should take primary responsibility for gently restoring a believer caught in a sin.

This should be a gentle restoration, not least because thoughtful Christians will recognize how they too may be tempted by this or some other evil (6:1b). By helping one another in this way—with encouragement, prayer, moral support, companionship, accountability, whatever—we thereby “carry each other’s burdens” (6:2). This, of course, is equivalent to fulfilling the law of Christ, who not only taught that the greatest commandments are to love God and to love your neighbor as yourself, but gave us his “new commandment”—to love one another as Jesus himself loved them (John 13:34–35).

In such a regime, self-promotion is ugly, futile, and self-deceiving (6:3). Pride goes before a fall. It vitiates the quiet self-examination that is ruthlessly and patiently honest (6:4). Community-destroying, soul-deceiving pride is displayed when Christians compare their service records in order to put the other person down. Honest self-evaluation engenders a godly thankfulness and a legitimate pride that never puts another person down, for “each one should carry his own load” (6:5).[1]


[1] Carson, D. A. (1998). For the love of God: a daily companion for discovering the riches of God’s Word. (Vol. 2, p. 25). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books.

March 20 For the love of God (Vol. 1)

Exodus 31; John 10; Proverbs 7; Galatians 6

 

in the extended metaphor of the shepherd in John 10, Jesus keeps revising the dimensions and application of the metaphor as he drives home a variety of points, a few of which we may pick up:

(1) For the biblically literate, it would be difficult not to think of Ezekiel 34. There God denounces the false shepherds of Israel, and repeatedly says that a day is coming when he himself will be the shepherd of his people, feeding them, leading them, disciplining them. Jesus’ insistence that, so far as shepherds go, those who came before him “were thieves and robbers” (John 10:8), would call Ezekiel 34 to mind. Then, toward the end of that Old Testament chapter, God says he will place over his flock one shepherd—his servant David. Now the Good Shepherd is here, one with God (1:1), yet from David’s line.

(2) In defining himself as the “good shepherd,” Jesus says that the “good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep” (10:11). This pushes the metaphor to the wall. In real life, a good shepherd risks his life for his sheep, and may lose it. But he doesn’t voluntarily sacrifice his life for the sheep. For a start, who would look after the other sheep? And in any case, it would be inappropriate: risking your life to save the livestock is one thing, but actually choosing to die for them would be disproportionate. A human life is worth more than a flock of sheep.

(3) Yet in case we have not yet absorbed the incongruity of Jesus’ claim, he spells it out even more clearly. He is not simply risking his life. Nor is he merely the pawn of vicious circumstances: no one can take his life from him. He is laying it down of his own accord (10:18). Indeed, the reason why his Father continues to love him is that the Son is perfectly obedient—and it is the Father’s good mandate that this Son lay down his life (10:17; cf. Phil. 2:6–8).

(4) Jesus’ sheep respond to his voice; others reject him. The implicit election is ubiquitous in the passage (e.g., 10:27–28).

(5) Jesus’ mission includes not only sheep among the Israelites, but other sheep that “are not of this sheep pen” (10:16). But if they are Jesus’ sheep, whether Jews or Gentiles, they “will listen to [his] voice, and there shall be one flock and one shepherd” (10:16). Here is the fulfillment of the promise that in Abraham’s offspring all the nations of the earth will be blessed. And this is also why, in the last analysis, there can never be more than one head of the church—Jesus Christ himself.[1]


[1] Carson, D. A. (1998). For the love of God: a daily companion for discovering the riches of God’s Word. (Vol. 1, p. 25). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books.

March 19 For the love of God (Vol. 2)

Exodus 30; John 9; Proverbs 6; Galatians 5

 

the beginning and the ending of Galatians 5, taken together, tell us a great deal about the Gospel that Paul preaches.

In the first part, Paul is still trying to persuade his Gentile Christian readers in Galatia that adding Jewish heritage and ritual to their Christian faith does not add something to it, but subtracts something from it. In particular, if they submit to circumcision, then “Christ will be of no value” to them at all (5:2). Why not? What harm could arise from being circumcised? Paul explains that the Gentile who allows himself to be circumcised “is obligated to obey the whole law” (5:3). That was the symbol-significance of circumcision: it was the mark of submission to the law-covenant. But to take that step betrays a massive failure to understand the true relationship between the law-covenant and the new covenant that the Lord Jesus Christ introduced. The former prepares for the latter, announces the latter, anticipates the latter. But to commit oneself to obeying the terms of the law-covenant is to announce that the new covenant Jesus secured by his death is somehow inadequate. These Galatians, who have in the past clearly understood that men and women are justified by grace through faith, are now “trying to be justified by law,” and in so doing “have been alienated from Christ”; it means nothing less than falling away from grace (5:4). The ultimate righteousness will be ours at the end, when Jesus returns. Meanwhile, “by faith we eagerly await through the Spirit the righteousness for which we hope” (5:5). To understand the crucial significance of Christ this way means that those who believe in Christ Jesus—what he has accomplished for us in his central place in redemptive history—know full well that circumcision itself is neither here nor there (5:6). But circumcision actually subtracts from Christ if one undergoes it out of a desire to submit to a covenant that in certain respects Christ has made passé.

While in the first part of the chapter Paul talks about the work of Christ, he slips in a brief mention of the Spirit: “By faith we eagerly await through the Spirit the righteousness for which we hope” (5:5, italics added). Already the Spirit is given to believers, consequent upon Christ’s work. Christians, then, are those who “keep in step with the Spirit” (5:25), who display the lovely fruit of the Spirit: “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control” (5:22–23). Pursue those things; there is no law against them, and they stand over against the wretched acts of our sinful nature (5:19–21; cf. Prov. 6:16–19) against which the Law pronounced but which it could not overcome.[1]


[1] Carson, D. A. (1998). For the love of God: a daily companion for discovering the riches of God’s Word. (Vol. 2, p. 25). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books.

March 19 For the love of God (Vol. 1)

Exodus 30; John 9; Proverbs 6; Galatians 5

 

as the feeding of the five thousand precipitates the bread of life discourse, so Jesus’ healing of the congenitally blind man in John 9 precipitates some briefer comments on the nature of spiritual blindness and sight.

Some of the authorities were finding it difficult to believe that the victim had in fact been born blind. If it were the case, and if Jesus had really healed him, then this would say something about Jesus’ power that they did not want to hear. Then as now, there were plenty of “faith healers” in the land, but most of their work was not very impressive: the less gullible could easily dismiss most of the evidence of their success. But to give sight to a congenitally blind man—well, that was unheard of in faith-healing circles (9:32–33). Unable to respond to the straightforward testimony of this man, the authorities resort to stereotyping and personal abuse (9:34).

Jesus meets up with him again, discloses more of himself to him, invites his faith, and accepts his worship (9:35–38). Then he makes two important utterances:

(1) “For judgment I have come into this world, so that the blind will see and those who see will become blind” (9:39). In some ways, this is stock reversal, like the account of the rich man and Lazarus (Luke 16:19–31), or the parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector (Luke 18:9–14)—a common theme in the Gospels. But this reversal is in the realm of vision. Those who “see,” with all their principles of sophisticated discernment, are blinded by what Jesus says and does; those who are “blind,” the moral and spiritual equivalent of the man in this chapter who is born blind, to these Jesus displays wonderful compassion, and even gives sight.

Some Pharisees, overhearing Jesus’ comment and priding themselves on their discernment, are shocked into asking if Jesus includes them among the blind. This precipitates his second utterance.

(2) “If you were blind, you would not be guilty of sin; but now that you claim you can see, your guilt remains” (9:41). Of course, Jesus might simply have replied “Yes!” to their question. But that would not have exposed the seriousness of their problem. By subtly changing the metaphor, Jesus drives home his point another way. Instead of insisting his opponents are blind, Jesus points out that they themselves claim to see—better than anyone else, for that matter. But that is the problem: those who are confident of their ability to see do not ask for sight. So (implicitly) they remain blind, with the culpable blindness of smug self-satisfaction. There are none so blind as those who do not know they are blind.[1]

 

[1] Carson, D. A. (1998). For the love of God: a daily companion for discovering the riches of God’s Word. (Vol. 1, p. 25). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books.

March 18 For the love of God (Vol. 2)

Exodus 29; John 8; Proverbs 5; Galatians 4

 

all of proverbs 5 is a warning, in wisdom categories, against succumbing to an adulteress—a warning that keeps returning in the opening chapters of this book (e.g., 6:20–35; 7:1–27). Sometimes it appears that prostitution is in view; sometimes it is simple adultery.

In an age of heightened sensibilities about stereotypes, some have taken umbrage that the person doing the tempting is invariably an adulteress. In the real world, isn’t the tempter at least as often the male, an adulterer?

Many things could be said, but four brief comments will suffice. (a) In part the warning is against an adulteress because it is offered to “my son” (5:1), following up on the fundamental structure of the genre (1:8; see meditation for March 15). (b) Even so, the “son” who goes off with an adulteress is certainly not shielded from blame. The errant son in this chapter is portrayed as more than a victim. This is the son who “hated discipline” and whose heart “spurned correction” (5:12). It is said of him, “The evil deeds of a wicked man ensnare him; the cords of his sin hold him fast” (5:22). He is guilty of “great folly” (5:23). (c) In this book, both wisdom and folly will later be personified as women (Prov. 9; see meditation for March 22). In other words, there is no univocal connection between women and evil. Men are often evil, and so are women. Both are called to pursue “Lady Wisdom.” (d) In any case, in the larger canon there are many places where the primary blame for sexual misconduct is clearly laid at the man’s door. That is true, for instance, of Judah’s affair with Tamar, of Amnon’s rape of his half-sister, of David’s seduction of Bathsheba.

Adultery itself is wrong, or foolish, or sinful, or short-term, or undisciplined—whatever the category Proverbs deploys—and not just the adulteress. The chapter not only articulates warnings, but offers an alternative: a marriage that is cherished, developed, nurtured, not least in the sexual arena (5:18–19). But beyond all the immediate and cultural reasons for sexual fidelity in marriage is one of transcendent importance: “For a man’s ways are in full view of the Lord, and he examines all his paths” (5:21). There are, of course, several similar verses in Scripture—e.g., “Nothing in all creation is hidden from God’s sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account” (Heb. 4:13). But in the context of Wisdom Literature, there is an additional overtone. Not only does God see everything, including any sexual misconduct, but it is the part of wisdom, the wisdom of living out life in God’s universe in God’s way, to please our Maker.[1]


[1] Carson, D. A. (1998). For the love of God: a daily companion for discovering the riches of God’s Word. (Vol. 2, p. 25). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books.

March 18 For the love of God (Vol. 1)

Exodus 29; John 8; Proverbs 5; Galatians 4

 

two comments on John 8:12–51.

(1) Already in John 7:7, Jesus said to his brothers, “The world cannot hate you, but it hates me, because I testify that what it does is evil.” Both in his own person and in his uncompromising words, Jesus is so offensive that the world hates him. He is the very embodiment of 3:19–21: “Light has come into the world, but men loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil.”

John 8 now goes further. Jesus insists that when the Devil lies, “he speaks his native language, for he is a liar and the father of lies” (8:44). Then Jesus adds, “Yet because I tell you the truth, you do not believe me” (8:45).

That is stunning. The first clause is not concessive, as if Jesus had said, “Although I tell you the truth, you do not believe me.” That would be bad enough. But Jesus says, “Because I tell you the truth, you do not believe me.” What options does that leave him? Should he tell the smooth lies that comfortable people want to hear? That might get him a hearing, but it is unthinkable that Jesus would follow such a course. So he continues telling the truth, and precisely because he tells the truth, he is not believed. To those so blinded, speaking the truth is precisely what hardens their hearts. It ignites the burning hatred that issues in the conflagration of the cross.

(2) Jesus insists that “Abraham rejoiced at the thought of seeing my day” (8:56): probably what Jesus has in mind is the promise God made and renewed to Abraham that in his offspring all the nations of the earth would be blessed (Gen. 12). It is unlikely Jesus is claiming that Abraham had some vision that unfolded the life and times of Jesus in a kind of visionary preview. What he means, rather, is that Abraham knew God, believed God’s promises about the offspring, and in faith contemplated the fulfillment of those promises, rejoicing in the prospect of what he could not yet fully grasp: “he saw it and was glad” (8:56). But at very least this means that Jesus is the object and fulfillment of God’s promise to Abraham, thus superseding him in importance. More: if the eternal Word (John 1:1) was always with God, and was always God, even Abraham’s faith-borne contemplation of God was nothing less than a contemplation of him who became Jesus of Nazareth. “I tell you the truth,” Jesus answered, “before Abraham was born, I am” —the very covenant name of God (Ex. 3:14).

When his opponents pick up stones to kill Jesus because of this second point, they prove his first point.[1]


[1] Carson, D. A. (1998). For the love of God: a daily companion for discovering the riches of God’s Word. (Vol. 1, p. 25). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books.

March 17 For the love of God (Vol. 2)

Exodus 28; John 7; Proverbs 4; Galatians 3

 

“above all else, guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life” (Proverbs 4:23).

(1) In contemporary Western symbolism, the heart is the seat of emotions: e.g., “I love you with all my heart.” But in the symbol-world of Scripture, the heart is the seat of the whole person. It is closer to what we mean by “mind,” though in English “mind” is perhaps a little too restrictively cerebral.

(2) So “guard your heart” means more than “be careful what, or whom, you love”—though it cannot easily mean less than that. It means something like, “Be careful what you treasure; be careful what you set your affections and thoughts on.”

(3) For the “heart,” in this usage, “is the wellspring of life.” It directs the rest of life. What you set your mind and emotions on determines where you go and what you do. It may easily pollute all of life. The imagery is perhaps all the clearer in this section of Proverbs because the ensuing verses mention other organs: “Put away perversity from your mouth; keep corrupt talk far from your lips. Let your eyes look straight ahead.… Make level paths for your feet” (4:24–26, italics added). But above all, guard your heart, “for it is the wellspring of life.” It is the source of everything in a way that, say, the feet are not. Jesus picks up much the same imagery. “You brood of vipers,” he says to one group, “how can you who are evil say anything good? For out of the overflow of the heart the mouth speaks. The good man brings good things out of the good stored up in him, and the evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in him” (Matt. 12:34–35, italics added). So guard your heart.

(4) Make this duty of paramount importance: “Above all else, guard your heart.” One can see why. If the heart is nothing other than the center of your entire personality, that is what must be preserved. If your religion is merely external, while your “heart” is a seething mass of self-interest, what good is the religion? If your heart is ardently pursuing peripheral things (not necessarily prurient things), then from a Christian perspective you soon come to be occupied with the merely peripheral. If what you dream of is possessing a certain thing, if what you pant for is a certain salary or reputation, that shapes your life. But if above all else you see it to be your duty to guard your heart, that resolve will translate itself into choices of what you read, how you pray, what you linger over. It will prompt self-examination and confession, repentance, and faith, and will transform the rest of your life.[1]


[1] Carson, D. A. (1998). For the love of God: a daily companion for discovering the riches of God’s Word. (Vol. 2, p. 25). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books.

March 16 For the love of God (Vol. 2)

Exodus 27; John 6; Proverbs 3; Galatians 2

 

proverbs 3 includes several well-known passages. Many Christians have been told not to be wise in their own eyes (3:7). The passage that likens the Lord’s discipline of believers to a father’s discipline of the son he delights in (3:11–12) reappears in the New Testament (Heb. 12:5–6). Growing up in a Christian home, I was frequently told, “Blessed is the man who finds wisdom, the man who gains understanding.… She [wisdom] is more precious than rubies; nothing you desire can compare with her” (3:13, 15). Wisdom is either God’s plan or the personified means of establishing the entire created order (3:19–20).

But first place should go to 3:5–6, enshrined on many walls and learned by countless generations of Sunday school students: “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight.” Observe:

(1) The first part of this familiar text attacks the independence at the root of all sin. Our own understanding is insufficient and frequently skewed. The only right path is to trust in the Lord. Such trust in the Lord is not an ethereal subjectivism; it is the kind of whole-life commitment (“with all your heart,” Solomon says) that abandons self-centered perspectives for the Lord’s perspectives. In the context of biblical religion, that means learning and knowing what the Lord’s will is, and obeying it regardless of whether or not it is the “in” thing to do. Far from being an appeal to subjective guidance, this trusting the Lord with your whole heart entails meditating on his word, hiding that word in your heart, learning to think God’s thoughts after him—precisely so that you do not lean on your own understanding. Joshua was required to learn that lesson at the beginning of his leadership (Josh. 1:6–9). The kings of Israel were supposed to learn it (Deut. 17:18–20), but rarely did.

(2) The second couplet, “in all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight,” demands more than that we acknowledge that God exists and that he is in providential control, or some such thing. It means we must so acknowledge him that his ways and laws and character shape our choices and direct our lives. In all your ways, then, acknowledge him—not exclusively in some narrow religious sphere, but in all the dimensions of your life. The alternative is to disown him.

Thus the second couplet is essentially parallel to the first. The result is a straight course, directed by God himself.[1]


[1] Carson, D. A. (1998). For the love of God: a daily companion for discovering the riches of God’s Word. (Vol. 2, p. 25). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books.